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Onward Christian Soldiers
Who was the first Gentile baptised by Peter? Cornelius.
What did he do? He was a soldier.
God loves soldiers, though Christians throughout the ages have sometimes been unsure. Can you really be a soldier and a true Christian?
My father was a Jewish refugee to New Zealand, and a Communist. He served in the New Zealand Air Force during World War II – he once told me he would have been first in line to volunteer to help drop the A-bombs on Japan - but after the war refused to accept the medals to which he was entitled, as some kind of anti-war protest. (After he died, in 1994, I wrote to the New Zealand Defence Department to check if the medals were still available. They were, and I have them now in my desk drawer.)
He and my mother became leaders of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and I was raised in the 1950s and 1960s in an intensely anti-war environment. Yet at the same time my uncle – my father’s younger brother, who as a boy had been smuggled by Jewish groups into pre-war Palestine – was a career officer in the Israeli army.
I guess that ambivalence about military matters stuck with me. So after I became a Christian, at the age of 44, if I’d been asked my views about armed service, I might have answered with something vague to the effect that of course we need an army, but that it’s better that Christians not serve in it. Because armies are for killing, and Christians shouldn’t kill.
Or I might have said that I classified soldiers with lawyers and real estate agents. When you need them you expect them to get down and dirty. Better they not be Christians.
But recently I’ve been spending time on the internet following links provided by the Association for Christian Conferences, Teaching and Service – a support group for Christians in the military – and by the Association of Military Christian Fellowships, and I’ve come to recognise something important: we need more Christians serving in the military. (I’m still undecided about lawyers and real estate agents.)
Reverend Major General Ian Durie has examined many stories of serving soldiers in Scripture, and has concluded (no longer online):
We clearly see from the New Testament that soldiering is an honourable profession, but one which has to be conducted in a right way….Our Lord and the apostles (our model church leaders) approved then, as they approve now, the profession of soldier….Soldiering is an honourable profession, to which men and women of faith are called.
But don’t soldiers kill? Yes, they do. As Major General Durie explains:
There is a tendency…not to trust that God has appointed us to be soldiers, nor that soldiering has our Lord’s approval, and is a high calling under God. And when we don’t trust Him for that, when we don’t offer this part of our lives in worship to God, when we take off Christ as we put our uniforms on, then we abandon Him when we have a gun in our hand, at the time that we need Him most. Do you see that? It’s a matter of life and death, and at that supreme test we need God’s guidance more than at any other time.
So don’t be blind….Because as a Christian, if you are not ready to kill if need be, and approve of it, then you should not be a soldier. For myself, I know that in the Gulf War I was responsible for the deaths probably of hundreds, maybe thousands of Iraqi soldiers. I did what I believed was right under God, but I also know that at the last day I am answerable before Him for my actions there.
I recall C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity:
I have often thought to myself how it would have been if, when I served in the first world war, I and some young German had killed each other simultaneously and found ourselves together a moment after death. I cannot imagine that either of us would have felt any resentment or even any embarrassment. I think we might have laughed over it.
Go to Part 3 (no longer online) of Major General Durie’s lectures and read how he places in context the sixth commandment (“Thou shalt not kill”) and Jesus’ admonition to turn the other cheek when attacked. Justice and righteousness are over-riding imperatives of God.
Where, we must ask the pacifist, is the righteousness in rape or robbery? Such things must be stopped, and we may ourselves use reasonable force to prevent them.…The same applies at a national level, internally against terrorists and rebels, and externally against other armies who threaten violent action against the state.
His conclusion: “It is always wrong to use force, unless it is more wrong not to.”
A year ago, on September 11, Todd Beamer, knew that. He knew that it was more wrong not to fight terrorists, and so he prayed the 23rd Psalm and then probably helped stop United Airlines Flight 93 from crashing into the White House. Pray that all other Christians may know the same.